Black Fortunes
“By telling the little-known stories of six pioneering African American entrepreneurs, Black Fortunes makes a worthy contribution to black history, to business history, and to American history.”—Margot Lee Shetterly, Author of the New York Times Bestseller Hidden FiguresThe astonishing untold history of America’s first black millionaires—former slaves who endured incredible challenges to amass and maintain their wealth for a century, from the Jacksonian period to the Roaring Twenties—self-made entrepreneurs whose unknown success mirrored that of American business heroes such as Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and Thomas Edison.While Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Michael Jordan, and Will Smith are among the estimated 35,000 black millionaires in the nation today, these famous celebrities were not the first blacks to reach the storied one percent. Between the years of 1830 and 1927, as the last generation of blacks born into slavery was reaching maturity, a small group of smart, tenacious, and daring men and women broke new ground to attain the highest levels of financial success.Black Fortunes is an intriguing look at these remarkable individuals, including Napoleon Bonaparte Drew—author Shomari Wills’ great-great-great-grandfather—the first black man in Powhatan County (contemporary Richmond) to own property in post-Civil War Virginia. His achievements were matched by five other unknown black entrepreneurs including:Mary Ellen Pleasant, who used her Gold Rush wealth to further the cause of abolitionist John Brown;Robert Reed Church, who became the largest landowner in Tennessee;Hannah Elias, the mistress of a New York City millionaire, who used the land her lover gave her to build an empire in Harlem;Orphan and self-taught chemist Annie Turnbo-Malone, who developed the first national brand of hair care products;Madam C. J Walker, Turnbo-Malone’s employee who would earn the nickname America’s "first female black millionaire;"Mississippi school teacher O. W. Gurley, who developed a piece of Tulsa, Oklahoma, into a "town" for wealthy black professionals and craftsmen" that would become known as "the Black Wall Street."A fresh, little-known chapter in the nation’s story—A blend of Hidden Figures, Titan, and The Tycoons—Black Fortunes illuminates the birth of the black business titan and the emergence of the black marketplace in America as never before.

Black Fortunes Details

TitleBlack Fortunes
Author
ReleaseJan 30th, 2018
PublisherAmistad
ISBN-139780062437549
Rating
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Biography, Business, Historical

Black Fortunes Review

  • Jill Hutchinson
    January 1, 1970
    What an interesting book on the the lives of six African-Americans who through hard work, intelligence, strength and in some cases, luck, became millionaires in the pre- and post-Civil War period. In a time of terrible racial hatred and little or no opportunity for a Black man/woman to have a chance to make a decent living, these men and women overcame all the odds to set an example for the generations to follow. They became involved in property development, banking, and the beauty products deve What an interesting book on the the lives of six African-Americans who through hard work, intelligence, strength and in some cases, luck, became millionaires in the pre- and post-Civil War period. In a time of terrible racial hatred and little or no opportunity for a Black man/woman to have a chance to make a decent living, these men and women overcame all the odds to set an example for the generations to follow. They became involved in property development, banking, and the beauty products development, all of which catered to the African-American population who were usually turned away at the door of white owned businesses.This is a straightforward telling of the story of each of these amazing people, the majority of whom were born as slaves. It is sad to note that after the deaths of several of them, their families and bad management diminished their fortunes significantly But the point was made......the door had been opened by these pioneers and Black entrepreneurship became a reality because of their efforts.The book lost a star in my rating for bad editing. Abraham Lincoln's VP was identified as Andrew Jackson rather than Andrew Johnson and during the pre-Civil War period the state of WV is mentioned several times although it did not exist at that time in history. Otherwise, this book is worth reading as it provides a look at an almost unknown piece of Black history.
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  • Diego
    January 1, 1970
    In the spirit of learning history during Black History month: Six life stories of the first African-American slaves that became millionaires, prior to the Civil War and leading into the early 1900s. I was unable to put this down as all experience much hardship during their rise. All stories are very different, but common in the sense of hardship. Very hard to read about our history of this kind; hard to believe people were treated in this uncivilized manner.Their names are Mary Ellen Pleasant, R In the spirit of learning history during Black History month: Six life stories of the first African-American slaves that became millionaires, prior to the Civil War and leading into the early 1900s. I was unable to put this down as all experience much hardship during their rise. All stories are very different, but common in the sense of hardship. Very hard to read about our history of this kind; hard to believe people were treated in this uncivilized manner.Their names are Mary Ellen Pleasant, Robert Reed Church, Ottawa W Gurley, Annie Malone, Hannah Elias, and Madam CJ Walker. Their stories were intertwined with Frederick Douglas and Booker T Washington, but they not the main focus. I feel like this book could have been 600 pages with more surrounding history of events they experienced. Notice 4 of 6 are women. Not all stories are inspiring about how one fought to create a business though some are. One example was Hannah Elias whom was a secret mistress of a white business man whom gave her almost all his worth. It drove her into hiding for fear of retribution from her neighbors; which eventually happened. A common theme is the impact of historic events or emerging business events that played major parts, for example, the whaling business for oil, the gold rush and the Trail of Tears.Sadly, all of their worth was wasted, lost or stolen from them. Great historic stories of their experiences from slavery into great wealth from those that aren’t in many history books.
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  • Jamal
    January 1, 1970
    Completely Blown away by this well researched Gem. Shomari wills presented the lives of these millionaires in such a cool way. Learned so many amazing things.
  • Sarah Beth
    January 1, 1970
    I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins. This work of non-fiction tells the story of the first black millionaires in America's history. These include six entrepreneurs including Mary Ellen Pleasant, who capitalized on the Gold Rush; Robert Reed Church who made his wealth off of landowning; Hannah Elias, who received most of her wealth from her wealthy white lover; O.W. Gurley who developed a section of Tulsa, Oklahoma into a town for prosperous black professionals; and Annie Turnbo-Mal I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins. This work of non-fiction tells the story of the first black millionaires in America's history. These include six entrepreneurs including Mary Ellen Pleasant, who capitalized on the Gold Rush; Robert Reed Church who made his wealth off of landowning; Hannah Elias, who received most of her wealth from her wealthy white lover; O.W. Gurley who developed a section of Tulsa, Oklahoma into a town for prosperous black professionals; and Annie Turnbo-Malone, and Madame C.J. Walker who both made their fortunes off of black hair care products. This book covers the years between 1830 and 1927 and these individuals are remarkable because they were able to achieve significant wealth despite being part of the last generation of blacks born into slavery. The individuals covered in this book are remarkable and fascinating. I particularly enjoyed reading about Robert Reed Church, who started his working life as a slave on his white father's riverboat and yet worked his way to wealth and prosperity. I also enjoyed Annie Turnbo-Malone's story of her childhood passion for fixing hair that turned into a life calling of helping black women through making and selling hair products tailored to them at a time when no one else was doing so. Despite the significance of these individuals' stories, I was disappointed in the writing. Specifically, the book seemed disorganized and lacking in editorial support. For example, Annie is introduced in the book as Annie Turnbo, her maiden name. Abruptly in the next chapter, (which focuses on a different individual), the author refers to her as Annie Malone, without having yet covered her marriage (201). In the next chapter, she jumps back to Annie Turnbo again (203). This is a glaring continuity error that should have been caught by the editor. Additionally, Wills does not come across as a natural storyteller; sometimes the stories lack details or historical background that would have provided context and clear understanding. The chapters jump from focusing on one individual to another with no transition or seeming rationale, giving the book a disjointed feel. I was also somewhat surprised at the inclusion of Hannah Elias in this tale. Although technically a millionaire, it seems a stretch to call her an 'entrepreneur' like the others, since she earned her wealth by being the mistress of a wealthy man. The six individuals detailed in this book are remarkable and an important piece of our national history and I commend the author for providing us with these formerly untold tales. However, I do wish the execution of this book had been a bit more thorough and well edited.
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  • David Wineberg
    January 1, 1970
    Millionaires today are no big deal. Half of Congress is millionaires. Not impressed. But the first six black American millionaires is a terrific story. These unlikely individuals started off with huge disadvantages, from race to skin color to illiteracy to being slaves or the children of slaves. That they rose to wealth in such a hostile environment – civil war, reconstruction, Jim Crow – makes them all the more impressive. And half of them were women.Unlike todays’ millionaires who can set out Millionaires today are no big deal. Half of Congress is millionaires. Not impressed. But the first six black American millionaires is a terrific story. These unlikely individuals started off with huge disadvantages, from race to skin color to illiteracy to being slaves or the children of slaves. That they rose to wealth in such a hostile environment – civil war, reconstruction, Jim Crow – makes them all the more impressive. And half of them were women.Unlike todays’ millionaires who can set out to make a fortune and just do it, the first six black millionaires often backed into it. Every story is different, every fortune is different. They leveraged the mobility of America, taking advantage of the California gold rush or the Oklahoma land giveaway. They became lenders to help build local businesses that helped them rent their buildings, or in one case, became the kept woman of a white multimillionaire. Their million in assets is worth tens of millions by today’s standards, making it all the more impressive.Shomari Wills has to be a fine storyteller to fill in the gaps in these largely unrecorded lives, and he is. They come alive in his pages and their stories move quickly. Rather than profile each one alone, his book is chronological. The chapters run from the 1800s to the 1950s. The characters show up in different decades as we pick up their stories again. There is little or no interaction among the players. They were too busy living their own lives to even know about each other, unlike todays’ crop, which constantly gather and socialize.And none of them made their fortune in office.My favorite is Mary Ellen Pleasant, who took off for California to track down her man, and ended up with a fortune in real estate, securities and a prominent place in secretly funding John Brown and the Abolitionists. She totally dedicated her fortune to the cause. She was a class act.There is a shelf of these books now. They tend to make far more interesting biographies for me than the run of the mill. There’s [[ASIN:1250070562 Prince of Darkness]] – the story of Jeremiah Hamilton, a Wall St. finagler, who shows up in Black Fortunes too, [[ASIN:0990959244 George Washington's Mulatto Man]] and most recently [[ASIN:1786071843 Black Tudors]], all of which I have reviewed. Black Fortunes is yet another, very different and fascinating collection to add to the shelf.David Wineberg
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  • Linda Smatzny
    January 1, 1970
    This is a very informative and interesting book about six African Americans who had great financial success just after the Civil War into the new century. The book is history but reads like fiction in that it flows with none of the dryness of some history books. The book contains some pictures. It was a quick easy read.
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  • Lenora Patterson
    January 1, 1970
    Required readingA treasure trove of little-known black history facts, setting the record straight on many myths as well. Engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking, this book should be required reading in high school!
  • Max Rubin
    January 1, 1970
    These early millionaires were pioneers pointing the way for future black success stories. Suggest
  • Brandi Brown
    January 1, 1970
    Informative and CompellingThis book is well written and well researched. I was impressed with the storytelling as well as the deep dive into history.
  • Mrs. Varela
    January 1, 1970
    Shomari Wills has written an excellent account of unsung individuals who thrived during times when all odds were against them. These are stories that need to be shared from generation to generation.
  • Eric
    January 1, 1970
    I am a huge history buff and I absolutely loved this book. The book discussed the first black millionaires and how they were all basically related. The fact that they had been through all this adversity and still were able to manage becoming millionaires it's amazing.I loved how it spoke about the one who basically built up Beale Street in Memphis, he basically owned it.It's a great book especially if you like history.
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